The low lying and rather upscale office and residential areas of Bengaluru’s south east have submerged by over 250 mm of rain in the last four days. To put this intensity of rainfall in perspective, the city has received a little under 600 mm since June. It has by now become a familiar story for this time of the year — Vadodara, Hyderabad, Kochi, Chennai (more in December) are periodically thrown into utter disarray, causing immense damage to property, infrastructure, economic output and lives. There could be worse to come. While the IMD has predicted above-normal rainfall this month, the APEC Climate Centre, South Korea, has predicted above-normal rain right till December in the five southern States. Bengaluru, Chennai and Kochi may see more disruption. To be sure, concentrated rain has turned even cities such as London and Berlin into large water bodies. It would be foolhardy now to dismiss such flooding as a one-off event, when it is well established that extreme weather events have become the norm. What is truly disappointing is that the right lessons are not being learnt and acted upon. The reasons for the disruption in large, rapidly growing cities are obvious: storm water drains have been blocked and lakes have been filled up to construct fancy residential and business complexes, without giving a thought to water flows. These complexes cannot be razed to the ground, but surely lakes and storm water drains can be de-clogged and new pathways created for water to flow. In some cases, the consequences of messy planning have to be endured, such as the location of the Kochi airport next to the Periyar river. But there is much that can be achieved by proper mapping of a city’s topography so that its lakes and drains are precisely known.

In Bengaluru, there is no precise topographical information in the public domain, especially with respect to the affected areas which have mushroomed rapidly in the last two decades. With the city’s Master Plan 2015 not having looked closely at the ‘outer ring road region’, it has grown without regard for the location of dormant rivers, streams and lakes. The Master Plan 2031 must reflect an improvement in this respect. The low-lying ‘IT corridor’ to the south-east is also flatter in gradient, which implies that water does not drain away easily if outlets are choked. Its large lakes lie at the end of an inter-connected stream of water bodies to the north and the west. But it is unfair for IT majors to lay the blame for the chaos entirely on the doorstep of governments past and present when they have been complicit. The National Green Tribunal has stayed construction of tech parks, some of them SEZs, in this region. Today, the task at hand is for corporates and the government to form a special purpose vehicle to integrate water management within a business and residential area with the larger region. This would go well with claims of being environmentally and socially responsible. Corporates could fork out some investment in creating new water pathways, while earning CSR credits.

At the heart of urban chaos, which is leading to riskier living, is the absence of institutional capacity. A CAG performance audit report on Bengaluru, brought out last September, points to the lack of coordination between different municipal arms with respect to planning, data gathering and maintenance. Both capacity building and financial reforms of municipal bodies are called for, at a time when cities are turning economically inefficient by the day.